WATERLOO, Ont. – Who’s next?
It’s a question on the minds of many Ontario public sector workers as the governing Liberals push through legislation that would force new contracts on teachers to slay a $15-billion deficit.
Premier Dalton McGuinty made it clear Friday that government employees are next on his list — and he’ll be “relentless” in his pursuit of a wage freeze.
“We’ve got to take a look at the broader public sector, but I’m making it clear we’re coming, we’re coming, we’re coming,” he said in Waterloo. “We intend to freeze compensation.”
The government is already in talks with the Association of Management, Administrative and Professional Crown Employees of Ontario (AMAPCEO), which represents about 12,000 workers, from policy analysts to economists and veterinarians.
Talks with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents 38,000 members, are set to begin in November.
AMAPCEO is planning a noon rally on Wednesday on the front lawn of the legislature — a week after it was packed with Ontario teachers outraged over a bill that freezes wages and cuts benefits. The association has also been running ads since May.
The government has set a deadline of Sept. 9 for a new collective agreement after more than two months of bargaining, the group said Friday in an update to its members.
AMAPCEO is confident that an agreement can be reached “if the employer is willing to show some flexibility,” president Gary Gammage said in the email.
But the controversial legislation for teachers, which could be passed as early as Sept. 10, can’t be far from members’ minds.
Unions representing the majority of teachers are protesting the bill, which would freeze wages and cut benefits. It would also give the government the power to ban strikes and lockouts for at least two years.
The unions argue the dispute isn’t about money, but the government violating their collective bargaining rights, and say they’re prepared to take their fight to the Supreme Court of Canada.
But the Liberals say they’ve tried to bargain since February, when some of the unions walked away from the table after only an hour.
They point out that English Catholic and francophone teachers signed on to an agreement, which included three unpaid days off, halving sick days to 10 a year and the elimination of the banking of unused sick days that could be cashed out at retirement.
But they can’t wait any longer for the other unions representing the majority of teachers to come around, because their old contracts will automatically roll over Sept. 1, incurring extra costs the province can’t afford.
McGuinty warned civil servants that his government will play hardball, because there’s just no more money for pay hikes.
“We can negotiate how to get there, but the ‘there’ is not the subject of negotiation,” he said.
“The ‘there’ represents a freeze in public sector compensation in a way that does not compromise the quality of services we are delivering in our classrooms or in health care.”
— Written by Maria Babbage in Toronto.